Rally Season Starts Again: “Activists” speak for “the community” and “the people”. The community and the people largely ignored them.

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For the first time in over a week, a political rally was held in Ivano-Frankivsk. In the tradition of the Maidan era, it was held at 6pm outside the Regional Administration Building, aka the White House. The rally was termed an ‘extraordinary rally’, in the sense of an EGM, but those who spoke from the balcony above the entrance to the city council it was deemed to be the first of a new series of daily rallies (on Sundays they will be held at 14:00). The plan is to hold them every day until either Easter, the election or, ‘until the revolution is complete’. The rally had been announced in the local press yesterday and was promoted today, but the attendance was poor. One local news source estimates it was around 100 people. I would say it was around 150 at most by the end, including those in military fatigues who are always present. There were almost more certainly more folk marching on Wednesday through the city than there were on the square. It seems easier to convince a few baseball-bat wielding teenagers to have a bit of a march on the police HQ than to get them to participate in what posed as a democratic rally under the eyes of “the people”, “the community”.

Rally fail

The rally started a few minutes after six, and the first orator began his speech calling for peace and calm in the city, before being halted and the female MC realised that the national anthem had not been sung. So the crowd launched into it and the speech began again.

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When the rally finally started a few minutes after 6 p.m. the number of people present on the square was certainly not more than a hundred, even if the presence of a coach with Lviv plates (beginning BC) suggests that there was an effort to bring activists to the square for the meeting. During the course of the brief rally, lasting no more than 40 minutes, numbers increased. On the above photo, local Right Sector leader Vasyl Abramiv, and son-in-law of the national leader Dmytro Yarosh, can be seen surveying the square, evidently concerned by the sparse crowd. Abramiv became a father on Wednesday, and Yarosh a grandfather, evoking much mirth among locals commenting on the news story, outlining the evident nepotism in this apparently revolutionary organisation.

The decorations in this space have changed during the course of the Maidan, Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary periods. As the photo of Abramiv shows, he is standing in front of a new banner stating ‘God, Human, Ukraine’. This has never been seen on the balcony before, while the Virgin Mary above him is something that appeared in 2014. It was notable that this extraordinary rally was not attended by any religious figure, whereas during the late-Maidan and revolutionary phase, the rallies always began with at least a blessing from priests while in the most troubled times there could be a full-scale Mass issued from the balcony.

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In a further change of decoration, initially both balconies featured the EU flag which – lest we forget – was the initial symbol of the protests in 2013, the ideal which the then-government failed to deliver that brought some people in this city and around Ukraine onto the streets to initiate what became Euromaidan. Now, the EU flag has been removed from the left-hand-side balcony which has become the one used for these rallies and speeches. It remains on the right-hand balcony. On the balcony for speeches, the red-and-black flag of the Ukrainian nationalist movement has replaced the EU flag, something that is symbolic of the change in the tone and direction of the next-stage revolution proposed by those with access to the balcony. It’s more about a national and moral revolution now, holding to account those who are still or now in power, but effectively calling for the removal of anyone associated in any way with the previous regime and, naturally, replacing them with people approved by those with access or – according to those who spoke to day – those who fought for access to the balcony.

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Those who spoke today were two members of the local council with favourable attitudes to two other speakers, the local leader of Right Sector and a representative of the Self-Defence. A fifth speaker appeared briefly, I’ll mention him later. According to Right Sector’s Abramiv and the second speaker from the local council, the mayor himself had sought to prevent today’s rally, literally pulling the plug on it around 5pm. Before that, over a day of negotiations and demands were required to gain access to the square and balcony today.The video  I made of the speech shows Abramiv in action, as well as those gathered largely ignoring his speech about what people died for, his attempts to speak for the dead and dismiss the legitimacy of the new authorities, framing instead those on Maidan as the only legitimate force following something declared a conspiracy against the real revolutionaries who fought to bring down the old government. And now those ghosts of the old regimes are seeking to stifle the full revolution and are again ‘divvying out posts’ between the old guard who, apparently, refuse to undergo lustration and reveal the corrupt skeletons in their cupboards. The local press is framing this a ‘division in the ranks of the HQ of National Resistance‘. So, the party-political side of the revolution is dividing away from what is deemed the Maidan side, those on the ground.

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After recent behaviour on the part of Right Sector and the Self-Defence, who are attempting to impose mob democracy on the city, it is no surprise that the local authorities are attempting to disassociate themselves with the groups occupying their offices and attempting to have the choice of local police head reversed and their man put in the post. Of course, there are concerns over decisions being taken again in Kyiv and the issue of the police head is perhaps one of the few arguments in favour of ever repeating the Tories’ miserable experiment with police commissioners in the UK. However, I would say that attempting to stabilise authority in these turbulent times is more sensible for now, and more beneficial for Ukraine, than using force and threats to reverse decisions taken in Kyiv. Still, those who gained access to the balcony claim to speak in the name of ‘the community’ and ‘the people’, yet the meagre number of people present suggests that there is little popular legitimacy for these orators and paramilitaries. And, according to a local news report I saw on Ukraine’s channel 24 this morning, the majority of local police are in favour of the head of police nominated by Kyiv and are prepared to come onto the streets to show their support. This has put an end to the joint patrols that were taking place between police and Self-Defence activists.

My problem with these orators and the organisations they represent is that they claim to speak for ‘the people’, ‘the Ukrainian people’ and ‘the community’. How they argue for the legitimacy of these claims is that they represent the Maidan and the true purpose of the revolution which the people had wanted. As the shift in flags suggests, they believe that the people wanted a national revolution whereas the initial civil protests were for Europe, for an end to corruption and rule by force, and being able afterwards to build a good quality of life. Those who speak for the community seem to have forgotten than and have now appropriated the symbol of popular protests, the city’s Maidan, for their particular objectives of national revolution, while framing themselves as the sole groups able to combat corruption and boorishness. (Looking above, no one seemed to want to stop cars driving on this pedestrianised space!)

And they have appropriated not only the space but also the victims of the previous regime killed in Kyiv.

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Roman Huryk, the local student killed in February in Kyiv, has become – rightly – another permanent symbol on the square outside the the regional administration of the cruelt and illigitimacy of the Yanukovych regime. However, those speaking from the balcony claim to speak in the name of their fallen ‘sworn brothers’ (побратимці). Not a single member of Right Sector was killed in Kyiv. Most victims were simply ordinary people on the front line who gave their lives. Whether they did so in the name of the national revolution, cannot be established, but those on the balcony are sure. And so they appropriate the victims to their cause, generating good PR along the way from a largely uncritical local press.

However, today Blitz.if.ua offered some subtle critiques of the behaviour of Right Sector, noting how when the father of Roman Huryk today spoke from the balcony – or tried to speak but was overcome with emotion – the Right Sector activists were more interested in handing out their latest newsletter. Such is their respect for the victim, for the hero appropriate for their cause.

Huryk’s father was the last to speak, apart from the female MC dressed in military fatigues who took over from him and filled his potent, telling silence and emotion with her own narrative.  Condemning the current authorities for ‘forgetting’ what the significance of the heroes is, for overlooking the moral significance of the original struggle, it seems these figures on the balconies have done exactly the same.

Huryk’s father managed to say, though, that ‘people here are starting to forget what those who died, including my son, were fighting for.’ His words seemed aimed not simply at the community, but at those who had brought him onto the balcony, seeking to appropriate his loss and grief for their national revolution.

If they really cared for his son and for this grieving father, why present him last, after all the calls for lustration and the politicking (which they condemn in others) by representatives of Right Sector and their council allies?

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In other local news, away from the White House, the world’s oldest woman died today in the town of Kolomyya at the age of 117. Kolomyya, some 70km from Ivano-Frankivsk, like this city, in Kateryna Kruk’s lifetime passed from Austro-Hungarian rule to the West Ukrainian Republic to interwar Poland and then the USSR in 1939. In 1941 the Nazi German General Gouvernement came then the Soviets again in 1944, remaining in the USSR until 1991. Then it became a regional centre in independent Ukraine. She was a unique witness to Ukrainian history, seeking the uncertainties and imperial conflicts that have affected for centuries this part of the world. How sad that her death should come during another time of threats to Ukraine.

Local students were involved yesterday in an art project where they expressed their opposition to war. The pictures will be on display in the city centre before being transferred to their various art colleges.

In pop-cultural news, the Prosvita building, which served as the centre of student resistance in the city, will be used tomorrow for casting for Ukrainian X-Factor.

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It seems those who speak from the balcony now, organising these extraordinary rallies in the name of the people and the community, have forgotten about the ordinary people who initiated Euromaidan in the city and around Ukraine. Ordinary and active students who came onto the streets who then occupied Prosvita. And ordinary people who may well be watching X-Factor at home, hoping for a better life, a European future, escaping from the fear of war. While those speaking from the balcony spoke today, condemning local authorities for politicking while the country is under threat, it seems that Right Sector and others are more concerned with doing exactly the same, seeking local power and authority, rather than preparing for the front.

They’re still convinced of an ‘internal occupation’ of Ukraine when a real enemy is already at the gates of Ukraine.

6 thoughts on “Rally Season Starts Again: “Activists” speak for “the community” and “the people”. The community and the people largely ignored them.

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